KLAY — Exclusive Interview
We would love to know your stories. What are your backgrounds?
I have always made things with my hands and currently all KLAY things are made by me. My background is in costume making for film, TV, theatre and opera as well as always making clothes and homeware for myself, my daughter and friends.
Before starting KLAY I worked sewing and pattern making for the past 30 years and before that I had my own fashion label in the 1980's. Many of the garments I made were hand dyed and hand screen printed. I have always made do with what I could and have always been creative with production. I made big cotton pirate shirts, that I would dye in the local laundromat and over sized hand knitted jumpers, which had hand knitted geometric patterns on the front and I employed friends to make the sleeves and backs. I have never been very interested in fashion, however I enjoy making things and have an interest in the construction processes involved in clothing and textiles.
I have done a couple of pattern making courses but consider myself more self trained. After experiences working on local productions, as well as in costume houses in Melbourne and London, I learnt a lot about hand sewing, fabrics and traditional processes. These valuable experiences working on period costumes and in soft furnishings in art departments really influences the hand made processes involved in everything I make and design for KLAY.
My daughter Hannah, who studied architecture and is currently working in India helps me part time with the admin side of the business. Whenever she comes home to NZ, I bounce ideas off her and we come up with new designs for KLAY.
When did you start KLAY and what was your motivation behind doing so?
Almost all of the clothes and textiles I own are items I have made myself and it has been that way since I was very young. I also enjoy making things for family and friends and all of the KLAY items I now sell are staple things I have made for myself and friends for years.
I ordered some KLAY clothing labels a few years ago and started putting a "name" to the projects I do. So really, KLAY has been an on going private project for years, but it wasn't really until 2016 when I got a website and an instagram account and started working on everything together to be sold to the public that I could start to see it become a full time project.
It was something I had wanted to do for years, but there was always something that made it difficult. It was a fine balance of having both time and money to take the leap into producing things in larger quantities to sell, rather than just one offs.
It happened organically and with the support of some very kind young designers who encouraged me to get the things I had been making out there. Zelda Murray helped me come up with the name KLAY, then Leilani Heather and Rob Byrne had an online shop called 'Bon Weekend' a few years ago, where I first sold KLAY goods - quilted throws and some original KLAY bags I made. This was the real start of KLAY.
Can you tell us a little about how your pieces come together, about your process as makers & the people you collaborate with?
All the KLAY items are things that I had made out of practicality: The hats are something I spent years perfecting and made about 25 different versions of that I would wear on walks to protect my scalp from getting burnt in harsh NZ sun! The bags are something that also evolved over years - the ideal comfy strong everyday bag for carting shopping home, but something that I could wear even when not taking shopping home!
The cushions are items that I made for my self as a treat, but also something that I could sit on while sewing, or have in bed as a head prop for reading.
The process of the designs of KLAY items comes from a desire to have practical and beautiful things that get better over time that I want to have myself. In order to have an object that lasts and is treasured, the process of how that item is constructed is really important to me. For example with the cushions, they are not just stuffed with feathers or cushion fluff, to get my ideal forms is a labour intensive process, I hand sculpt these from often 5 different layers. The final cushion is a result of many discarded samples and a lot of creative thinking about texture, weight and durability.
When I started KLAY I mostly used limited run fabrics that was end of run meterage from international designers - making do with what I could starting out as a small business. But slowly over the last year as the label has grown I have started to add some staple items that are made from on going available fabric from other wholesalers. Because at this stage KLAY is still such a small business I can not afford to import fabrics directly myself and being in NZ we do not have a huge range of wholesalers to source fabric from, so buying end of run fabric from importers that buy international designer dead stock works well for me, the limited fabrics are so beautiful - interesting colours and incredible quality, so it is great to incorporate those special limited run pieces in amongst the staple fabrics/ items.
Can you tell us a little bit about your latest range?
The new KLAY items I have been working on are a continuation of items I released throughout last year and had been making for years before that. KLAY is an on going project for me and I see it something that is continuous, rather than something that has seasons. However, I am always working on new ideas to add into the mix.
The new items are made up of some of the original shapes and styles in new fabrics and also the addition of a few new styles. I like to think of KLAY items being timeless and can be re worked and styled in various ways.
The new cushions are a mix of natural earthy tones of linens and vibrant bold primary colours. The combination of these fabrics and shapes together was heavily inspired by Kenneth Noland, Etel Adnan and Adolph Gottlieb's paintings.
Where do you work from? Can you describe this space?
I currently am working from my home based studio in Grey Lynn, Auckland. It is a tiny space and I am constantly re arranging huge rolls of fabrics, cushion filling and boxes. Although it is small, it is a happy space with wooden floors and high ceilings and a big window that is always open, letting fresh air and light inside.
I am usually kept company by podcasts playing through speakers as I make things. The small kitchen is next to my studio where I am always topping up my coffee.
There is a garden shed out the back of my house in the huge beautiful overgrown garden, where I dye some of the fabrics I use.
Tell us about the sorts of textures and colours you like to let into your studio or home?
My daughter Hannah designed the layout of my small living and work areas utilising Lundia shelving systems as room dividers to fully utilise every available space. These are full of wooden crates which store patterns and haberdashery so there is a lot of wood. I try to keep to a minimum and avoid any unnecessary clutter. I do always try to have flowers from my garden in vases on the windowsill.
What was the most recent thing you saw/read/heard that inspired you?
Hannah's photos of the creche she and her partner Mason are building as part of the migrant construction worker's housing project they are working on in Ahmedabad India.
In your downtime, or on the weekends, how do you like to relax?
I find it is quite hard to have downtime when you are starting your own independent label! But it is important to step away and take breaks. I love putting in headphones and going for big walks, reading, watching movies on Mubi or catching up with my daughter on the phone who is in India.
What are your plans for 2018?
This year I will move to a new bigger studio and as KLAY continues to grow and I will start to look for people who can help me with the production of some of the workload.